For those who don’t know about the Lee Child books, we are used to seeing Jack Reacher, roaming from place to place, stumbling upon questions that need answers and making it his mission to put right what has gone wrong for individuals – but what about tackling threats to a nation, a religion or a whole way of life? I was intrigued by the title of this new book by T.R. Kurtz, and I was introduced to a different kind of hero in exactly this situation…
So what is the book about?
As terrorist threats increase, the world’s fragile peace is put at risk by groups who are desperate to advance the cause of Islamic fundamentalism and see Christianity destroyed. Operating in secret, the Catholic church’s intelligence agency, the Canonical Order, assembles a group of agents whose aim is to discover and thwart plots before they can become a reality.
Enter the main man, Chad Stryker…
Is Chad Stryker like Jack Reacher?
Tormented by the loss of his wife and living alone, fueled by anger and motivated by strong convictions, Stryker is a highly-skilled and sought-after ex-CIA officer who has been employed by Vatican Intelligence. He finds purpose and a new focus, taking part in clandestine missions on behalf of the Catholic church. His team operates under the radar, using the program name ‘Black Swan.’ Stryker himself is just the kind of guy we can admire and root for; he’s highly-trained and talented, physically impressive, strong and quick-thinking and yet hot-headed and compromised because of the sadness and loss he’s experienced. In this way, we can relate to him as a result of this more vulnerable and human side to his character. Jack Reacher has similar qualities but I feel that T.R Kurtz does bring out the vulnerability of Chad, which does make you root for him even more.
Why should I buy this book?
What makes this thriller so tense and compelling is the parallel between fictional events in the novel and the all-too-familiar news stories about terrorist attacks that we’re used to hearing about.
Running alongside the main events, we get to keep a close eye on Stryker’s personal struggles and attempts to resolve them. From intelligence chiefs to computer whizzes, the team he works alongside – Moldovan, Anderson, Divers, D’Orio and Navarre – all share in his journey and each member plays an important role in seeking to manage the mission and support their operative (just imagine a hi-tech, intelligence version of the A-Team and you won’t be far wrong!)
Is there any Jack Reacher style action?
The action begins when there is an attack on the Pope during a worldwide address on live television and the sudden realisation by the Canonical Order that it has failed to foresee and prevent this act of terrorism. Add to this the fact that the Pope had been speaking about the need to combat religious extremism and the stage is set for the agency’s greatest mission to date: to find those responsible and to prevent the greatest attack against Christianity that the world has ever known. Stryker’s mission takes him to the streets of Iraq, Dubai and eventually to Italy as secrets are revealed and the full story is far more terrifying than anyone could have imagined. Can he uncover the truth in time? And is it just possible that someone he knows could be attempting to jeopardise the operation as the clock ticks? Get ready for lots of gun fights, snipers galore and lots of descriptions of the weaponry kind of like MARK GREANEY’S GRAY MAN series.
So why should I Buy This Book?
There are a few extra touches that set the book apart from other thrillers. Each chapter of the book begins with a quotation from the Bible, and this sets the scene for the action that follows, similar to an introduction. This also seems to emphasise the solemn way in which the agents view their task. Kurtz also includes some fantastic detail about the technology available to the Canonical Order, and the array of gadgets and weapons available to Stryker on his mission. From hair-raising bike rides across the desert to adrenalin-pumping chases through the ancient streets of busy cities, this story’s twists and turns keep you guessing right up to the closing chapter. This story is an adventure to read, I was actually disappointed when it had finished. If you like Jack Reacher novels, if you like a good spy thriller, if you like the Punisher films, then this is the book for you, you can buy the book on this page along with other classic Jack Reacher style books.
ISIS vs the Catholic Church
by Philip K. Jason
THIS SUPERCHARGED techno-spy thriller has it all. First of all, it has an intriguing premise. Kurtz imagines that the Catholic Church has developed a first-class intelligence operation with resources comparable to those of the superpowers. The Canonical Order is that impressive force, and it is presented as a late incarnation of the ancient Knights of Malta. Kurtz’s protagonist, Chad Stryker, is a highly experienced and outlandishly skilled former CIA agent who now works with the Canonical Order and has mastered its amazing resources. He is a leader of Black Swan, its covert action arm.
Why would the Vatican need such a warlike entity? Because a radical Islamist supergroup, led by a pair of Chechen brothers loyal to the Islamic State, has plans to destroy the Catholic Church and, by extension, all of Christianity.
Indeed, the Pope has been shot and is severely wounded.
What is amazing is the author’s ability to make his premise seem plausible. He has crafted a dynamic, suspenseful tale in which all of the many and often unexpected details fit together.
Stryker’s mission seems motivated in part by his need to redeem himself for any missteps he might have taken during the later stages of his wife’s death from a rare form of cancer. The portrait of the lovers’ relationship is powerfully drawn, and though Jennifer must always be offstage, she is as well-developed as any of the book’s many important characters.
Novices in the field of espionage and security countermeasures won’t know if Kurtz’s descriptions of the Order’s tools are accurate or not. However, they sure are appetizing. Devices are programmed to guide, respond to, and refine the parameters of the task at hand. Artificial intelligence seems to be blended with human assessments. Stryker is assisted by something called the ‘e-Mission Manager’ that is as important as his Canonical Order human associates: namely, D’Orio, Moldovan, and the brains-and-beauty-blessed Sonia Navarre. And a human source curiously named MILEAGE.
However, as the mission progresses, it becomes clear that the outcomes are not what was hoped for or expected. Some tools have been improperly calibrated or otherwise compromised.
Dedicated readers will find out by whom and why.
Chad Stryker’s action tools include weaponized gear of all kinds. He has outfits that disguise and protect him, while hiding an array of immediately accessible, personal armaments. One imagines a world at techno-war in which new kinds of haberdashery adorn the compatible, superbly-trained agent.
Well-chosen bible passages connect chapter titles with the moral and ‘end-of-world’ motifs of the action.
Kurtz is adept at describing intriguing settings and putting readers on the spot of the action. A long sequence set in Dubai engagingly establishes the interplay of character and place. Scenes in Kurdistan and elsewhere are similarly effective.
T.R. Kurtz’s first novel has the makings of a best-seller, and its inventive imagery could inspire a movie.
Where did all this potentially history-changing imagining come from?
A Naples resident, Kurtz has worked counter-terrorism and counternarcotics issues for the U.S. Government on worldwide assignments. His experiences in the Middle East, Far East, East Asia, and Latin America inform the tactics, equipment, and scenarios in his books. T.R. is a commercial multi-instrument pilot and certified flight instructor.
I spoke with him about his new book, The Canonical Order.
Philip K. Jason: Tell us a bit about the genesis of this book.
T.R. Kurtz: It started with the idea that someone would try to assassinate the Pope. So then I began to think of the reasons why. I started to look at geopolitics, what was happening in the world in the present day, the global threats, and historical conflicts. Obviously, groups like ISIS stood out. I cross-referenced those factors with some of the recruiting tactics of ISIS, their doomsday vision, and prophesies by the prophet Muhammad. A picture began to emerge that the group might try to literally do what they said they’d do on social media, “Go to Rome,” especially if that meant that they could draw in the rest of the Western world.
While ISIS may have been diminished, the radical ideology and its basis continue to be promoted by individuals seeking to control others through exploiting their vulnerabilities.
What aspects of crafting the novel gave you the most difficulty?
The biggest challenge was to get into the head of the protagonist, Chad Stryker. First, the guy is in a dark place. He’s trying to overcome something that he cannot fight with his hands. And has the impossible challenge of trying to fix the past. We are often the source of our biggest problems and Stryker knows that he alone is to blame. There’s real power and potential for change and growth in that idea of personal responsibility, but it’s going to be painful. And maybe it should be for real change to take hold.
What aspects gave you the most pleasure?
The fight scenes, tactical parts, and imaging new weapons and resources in the field were by far the most fun. Everyone goes into a situation with a plan, but once the action starts anything can happen because the situation unfolds dynamically. So imaging how Stryker would approach a situation asymmetrically, how adversaries might respond unpredictably, and the factors that affect the outcome, were all a lot of fun. I would also say that writing the relationships between Stryker and his Black Swan team was also a lot of fun because they are not only part of this clandestine, elite, and off-the-books group, but they also have a great camaraderie and unique friendships.
Are you an outliner, or do you just let the ideas and language flow?
So, yes. I did outline this book because I needed events to anchor the book and understand in general where things were going. For me, I used parts of the Snowflake method, which is to say that I did a bunch of building blocks to provide clarity where I was going, who was involved, and the obstacles to overcome. Once I had the general outline, I just started writing in order that things naturally flowed together. In the process I had to step back a couple of times and do some background work to make sure that I was clear on the motivations of each individual, but the outline at least provided a general structure so that I could connect everything together.
What are your revision techniques?
My personal technique is to get feedback from other writers. So I shared some chapters with a couple of writers and got their feedback. After I re-worked the manuscript, about four times, then I hired an editor who gave absolutely fantastic feedback. So then I reworked it maybe two more times. I think that the next book is going to be a lot easier because I can eliminate a lot of the revisions just by doing things right the first time and better understanding the characters before writing.
What do you want your “ideal reader” to get out of this novel?
First, I want the reader to be entertained, see a bit of the world, and understand the geopolitical factors that are at work in the world today. First, Stryker and his team are a lot of fun to hang out with. The places that they travel in this novel are real, unique, and worth a visit. And there are real things going on in the world that don’t make the new cycle, but are happening every day, like persecution of Christians in the Middle East. Ultimately I’d like readers to get the idea that each individual is capable of redemption. Everyone has bad things happen in life. And even if we’re not the cause of the pain, we are still the solution.
Is there a follow-up novel in the works?
There is a follow-up novel in the works as part of The Canonical Order series and will feature some of the same characters. It will still star the intelligence apparatus of the Canonical Order and Black Swan covert action arm, but there will be a different protagonist. Additionally, I am toying around with the next book where the protagonist is written in the first person, and the other characters are written in the third person. It’s a little scary because I’m not sure that the voice I am writing with works in the genre. •
The Canonical Order is published by CatAero, and is available in paperback and Kindle.